Theatre Review: Ryerson Musical Theatre Company presents Disney’s Newsies

There’s theatre outside U of T and it’s good
Newsies The Musical is inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike in New York City in 1899. COURTESY OF MONIQUE TIMLICK
Newsies The Musical is inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike in New York City in 1899. COURTESY OF MONIQUE TIMLICK

Ryerson Musical Theatre Company’s (RMTC) 2019 production, Newsies, was a heartwarming delight. With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and script by Harvey Fierstein, the musical Newsies is based on the 1992 Disney film and on the true story of the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York City.

Newsies follows newspaper delivery teenager Jack Kelly and his fellow ‘newsies’ as they strike against their employer, Joseph Pulitzer, who has raised the distribution price of newspapers. RMTC’s Newsies was joyful and genuine, with superb performances and costume designs that created authentic and unique characters — no small feat for a cast with a large ensemble.

The show opened with Jack (Mark McKelvie) telling his friend Crutchie (Colin Darling), named for the crutch he uses to support a damaged leg, about his wish to move to Santa Fe. McKelvie and Darling nicely balanced their energy and harmonies. I was drawn to Darling’s engaging and honest performance, especially in the dance numbers choreographed by Zoe Choptain, which borrowed from the original stage version but smoothly incorporated Crutchie and his crutch into the choreography.

McKelvie brought convincing passion to this demanding role, and he nailed the notorious high A in “Santa Fe.” The vocally-gifted Ian Kowalski became a powerful figure — and lively tap dancer! — in the strike. Olivia DeRoche successfully tackled her breathless solo “Watch What Happens,” and achieved a perfect balance between being earnest and not taking any bullshit from the men around her. These four performers had great chemistry, making Jack’s choice to stay in New York at the end believable.

Marie-Blanche Bertrand, as the dazzling singer Medda, has a lovely voice but didn’t ooze the confidence she needed to really sell her solo “That’s Rich.”

As Pulitzer, Daniel Goldman was simultaneously threatening and hilariously sassy.

The ensemble of newsies consisted of triple-threats contorting their bodies in impressive ways, though they performed strongest as a group. Issues with mic levels made it difficult to hear many of the solo lines. One standout was Boman Reid as Race, the newsie with the challenge of dancing with a cigar constantly in hand, which Reid executed with agility. Two other newsies drew my attention with their humorous performances: Ysabelle Ferrer as Mush and Cruz Lloyd as Specs and Bill. Ethan Kim as Albert also performed an impressive number of Russian split jumps.

The spot-on costumes, designed by Carlyn Routledge, consisted of various combinations of raggedy button-downs, suspenders, and hats — the newsies couldn’t afford more than what they could throw together, but each had their own style. Davey, who was new, started off well-dressed, but when he took a crucial role in the strike during “Seize the Day,” his suit jacket disappeared and he fit right in with the other newsies.

Director Isabella Verrilli made good use of the set’s different levels and pieces, and Mathilda Kane’s lighting design on Jack’s rooftop and during Crutchie’s solo, “Letter from the Refuge,” was emotive. Though the music helped move the scenes along, the transitions were strongest when blocking or choreography distracted the audience from set changes.

Orchestra director and U of T music student Kevin Vuong did a fantastic job of leading the band, composed mainly of U of T students. Despite a few minor slip-ups, the musicians brought spirit to this non-stop, high-energy show. Vocal director Nicole Kanga’s great work showed in the performers’ terrific harmonies.

The show’s highlight was “Once and For All.” The captivating choreography involving newspapers and the cast and band’s musical talents brought the song to life. When the performers changed keys while singing, “There’s change coming once and for all,” my heart lifted along with theirs — I believed them, and by the end, so did Pulitzer.

Brought together by a primarily female-led creative team, Newsies’ cast and crew poured heart and power into the production. With a cast of authentic performers, RMTC’s Newsies was uplifting, entertaining, and left me excited about the passion for university theatre that exists beyond U of T.

Newsies ran from March 13–16 at the Al Green Theatre.

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